Way too often we hear “love yourself so you can love others” and translate the whole scripture of “love thy neighbor as thyself” to mean that once we love ourselves, we are better able to love others. Bleh. I really dislike how pretty much all relief society lessons tend to go this way. We will talk about service for others and suddenly for more than half of the lesson we are discussing how ultimately service blesses ourselves. We will have a lesson on loving others and in the end we are talking about why loving ourselves first is so important and discussing ways to take care of our own needs, to not “neglect ourselves”.
I think we can’t love ourselves until we love others first. And we never get to that point sometimes, most times, because we want to do it backwards, which is ultimately the selfish way. We are even often taught backwards. And it gets us nothing in the end. It is like people who say they want to “find themselves” before going to college or be able to do anything good. Bleh again. Go do things, good things, and then you will make yourself. If you haven’t made yourself, there won’t be anything to find. In the same way, if you don’t love others first, there won’t be a part of yourself to love. We all struggle with this in some way, and I think that this is why.
We are always taught lessons of virtue by saying that it benefits our own soul, growth, and understanding, that we will be rewarded in heaven as well. While these things are true, I can't help but wonder about how we would live without this promise of eventual rewards. I understand that it is impossible to serve others without the reward of at least feeling good about it. But what if the outcome was really only the other person feeling better? If it did not help us "get to heaven"? Even when it seems to not benefit us in this life, we believe that we will be rewarded in the next life, that everyone basically will get their come uppance. I wonder how much good I would really do if I would not receive the blessings in heaven.
"He that layeth down his own life shall find it". I've been thinking about this a lot too. Finding our lives is the most beneficial thing for ourselves, so really, laying down your life for something so great is really not a big payment. A "selfless act" that results in benefiting yourself even more than it benefitted anyone else. Would I lay down my life for someone else if I wouldn't gain glory later? Or what about even getting my life back at all?
And I can't help thinking about how this extends to why I do anything. Isn't paying tithing made easier because I know I will be blessed for doing so? Do I pay because I need help financially or something, and not because the money will help someone else? Selfless acts as payment for something that I want for myself.
I know I sound so pessimistic with all this stuff about how even our most selfless acts could be the most selfish. But I just wonder sometimes.